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Stock image depicting motion-blurred lower bodies moving away from the camera, representing a chaotic scene ensuing during a poorly executed active shooter drill.

Stock photo by iStock

How Not to Do an Active Shooter Training

In case you needed an example of the exact wrong way to do an active assailant drill, a security consultant in Nebraska gives you Exhibit A.

Last week prosecutors arraigned John Channels on charges of making terroristic threats, a result of an ill-conceived active assailant training at a charity in Omaha.

In the incident, which occurred in May 2022, Channels staged a mock active shooter situation. He arrived at the new Omaha Catholic Charities building in a black hoodie with a firearm filled with blanks and actors covered in fake blood. Other than a couple of directors, none of the employees knew it was a drill. As Channels stormed the building firing blanks, the mock victims assumed their places in visible locations, with terror and panic ensuing as the people inside began fleeing for their lives.

An example of the panic: the Omaha World-Tribune reported Sandra Lopez told police she was at her desk in the office building when she heard shots. Running from the building, “She then heard three gunshots behind her. She ran … toward a retaining wall, with a dumpster several feet below. Lopez tried to jump into the dumpster to hide. She landed outside the dumpster and curled into the fetal position. Fearing she would be found and killed, Lopez then ran about three blocks to a fast-food restaurant to hide inside.”

Security Management asked Jennifer Holcomb, CPP, PSP, vice president, security solution lead at Markon Solutions, her thoughts on the Associated Press article on the incident.

“My honest reaction? I was aghast,” Holcomb says. “I have read articles where miscommunications and poor planning have negatively affected active shooter drills on military installations, but that doesn’t compare to this situation. …There are so many things that could’ve gone seriously wrong. It’s amazing no one was significantly injured or worse. This should not have happened.”

Leaders at the charity had hired Channels to do the training and told authorities after the incident that they were “somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of not fully notifying the staff, but trusted Channels’ expertise and counted on his statements that [authorities] would be involved.”

Police reports of the incident also indicate that Channels approached shaken employees after the training, asked them if they wished they had a gun, and handed them a card offering his gun safety training services.

Channels’ attorney said the training was conceived in consultation with leaders at Omaha Catholic Charities and that Channels was delivering services that the client wanted.

The training was a grossly misguided attempt at experiential learning, which is a well documented and effective adult learning technique. While the incident in Omaha is an example of a terrible experiential learning exercise, is there a way to incorporate some of the ideas of experiential learning into active assailant training?

Security Management asked Holcomb, who participated in ASIS volunteer groups that developed the Workplace Violence and Active Assailant Prevention, Intervention, and Response Standard and the Essentials of Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Programs Certificate course.

“Experiential training offers a deeper understanding of material being taught.  When applied to an active assailant situation, care must be taken so participants can think through the process but not feel as though they are living it,” she says. “Using the concept of a limited tabletop exercise (TTX), a training plan could be prepared that walks the participants through an attack scenario calmly and conversationally, yet increases their awareness of response options.

“Even then, it is important to be sensitive to the participants individual limitations and take precautions. Just talking through a scenario could stress someone to the point of emotional breakdown or, worse, cause a medical emergency. Participation should be voluntary, with participants monitored by medical personnel to prevent negative effects.”

Holcomb recommends the following tips for companies seeking to engage a consultant in helping the company increase its active assailant readiness level:

  • Know your organization’s risks and how best to protect against them. Don’t let fear be the author of planning or training development. Work with an experienced security consultant to conduct an unbiased risk assessment. 
  • Establish your workplace violence and active assailant plan if you don’t have one. ASIS provides a helpful standard, but don’t hesitate to get additional assistance from the consultant. Make sure to include human resources, legal counsel, and security staff. 
  • Train staff on the workplace violence and active assailant plan. Socialize it. Talk about it. Reinforce the plan through regular discussions, online training, brownbags, etc. People learn differently and at different rates, so varying training methods increases the likelihood of retention. If you are unsure of where to start, work with a consultant experienced in developing and implementing training programs. 

For more on active assailant situations, see the ASIS Soft Target and Active Shooter resources page and this Security Technology article that explores how the liability issues surrounding active shooter incidents are changing.